It’s the end of Ramadan, a month in which Muslims fast from all food and drink, from dawn to sunset.
The month always feels like a bit of a lockdown experience, a retreat where Muslims are encouraged, particularly during its last 10 days, to dedicate their time to prayer, contemplation, and charity work. The first part of the month is invariably a struggle as the body adjusts to fasting and withdrawal, but around half way, I usually hit a sort of zen clarity. Everything suddenly becomes easier – writing, reading, even exercising. The combined effect of indulging less and going out less is a focusing of the mind.
At the end of every Ramadan I make the same pledge: eat less, do less, be still with yourself more. Each year, as life and food creep back in, I break it.
This year, Ramadan in lockdown has been doubly intense. Together with self-isolation it was a monastic experience. With every day that passed, I made a new vow but at the back of my mind I remember that I never kept them before. It has made me worry about wasting this epic learning moment we are all going through as individuals and nations.
You see, the reason my Ramadan pledges failed in the past, is that immediately after a month of deprivation is absolutely the worst time to stick to a resolution; all you want to do is binge and enjoy all the things you missed. This is the danger in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 measures. Yes, in lockdown we saw clearly what’s broken about how we organise our society and politics, and that the time is now to imagine and campaign for the ways in which they should be fixed. I wrote the same myself. But as the end of lockdown comes into view across the world, I see how – tired, missing our friends and family, gagging for socialising and restaurants and parks and holidays – we might be at our weakest.
When I’m fasting, I usually get through the day by making a list of all the things I will eat once the sun sets. Sometimes, I just browse food photos. I bet most of us have a post-lockdown list of favourite haunts we’re going to visit, meals to have (a greasy fried breakfast in my local cafe), destinations to travel to. In a way, the period after life goes back to normal might be one of intense decadence, debauchery and drowning of sorrows. We need it and earned it and are owed it.
But how do we keep our commitment to all the things that we vowed to change at the same time? The answer I think, is to stop and clock that risk now, and fortify ourselves against it. Write ourselves a little reminder note if you will, put it in your mental pigeonhole, email it to yourself, jot it down in a diary. A letter to our future selves to remind us what we might forget once we are allowed to break our fasts.
What would you write in the letter?